Jay Austin has improved as a hitter in each of his three pro seasons.
With the Astros farm system on the rebound, I think it's going to be a more frequent occurrence that we begin to see actual positive articles written about the future Astros playing in the minor leagues. This past week saw a duo of Astro minor leaguers, Jay Austin and Brian Bogusevic, get a little bit of fanfare for different reasons. For Austin, his youth has drawn attention from prospect watchers. Bogusevic's strong start this season is hopefully a reflection of his continued growth offensively after an amateur career as a pitcher.
The tough part about analyzing minor league players is determining who is and who isn't for real. Anyone who has gone to the Express' or Hooks' websites and clicked on the statistics page can see glittering minor league numbers which don't always tell the whole story about a player. An example of this is current Round Rock shortstop Oswaldo Navarro. His sparking offensive numbers at a defensive intensive position could lead an unwary fan to believe that Navarro could be our solution at shortstop. Further examination would reveal that Navarro is already 25, doesn't have a great track record of minor league success and is playing for his second organization. His stats in limited ABs may be impressive, but that probably isn't enough to grab the attention of the powers that be with the Astros.
It was a pleasant surprise to see one of our teen-Stros make Baseball America's list of top under 20 players who are playing above low A ball. Jay Austin is a 19 year old, athletic outfielder who has shown increased plate discipline in each of his prior two minor league campaigns. This continued improvement has shone through in his 2010 season. What has most impressed me is his K:BB rate of 17:13 in 105 AB. It's clear that Austin came into our system with discipline issues but he has seen steady, positive growth in that area. His stolen base percentage is outstanding at 83.3%, and has knocked four homers already. I realize that Lancaster statistics must be taken with a grain of salt, but for a player like Austin, I am more optimistic than I would be with most. His skill set isn't as a power hitter, but as a contact hitter- someone who succeeds by putting balls in play and using his speed. All of the indicators in this regard are trending up. His level of success at 19 is really what should cause us all to take a look at Austin as an option down the line in the Astro outfield.
With Brian Bogusevic, we all know his story as one being out of the ordinary. Moving from being a pitcher to professional hitter is not a road traveled with regularity. The early returns weren't all that promising, and with younger options like Austin, T.J. Steele and others lurking below him in Corpus Christi, Lexington and Lancaster, Bogusevic was and still is in danger of being passed up in the pecking order of baby Astros outfielders. Unlike Austin though, Bogusevic's uptick in production has seemingly come out of nowhere. After displaying little to no power in his first two seasons as a hitter, Brian's 13 XBH are nearly 1/3 of his total base knocks this season. It isn't as if he's gone from being a fourth outfielder to a potential starter in 105 ABs, but this is the sort of unexpected, yet welcome surprise that minor leaguers can on occasion exhibit. It's unlikely this kind of play is sustainable, but if he can continue to grow as a hitter I don't think it's out of the question for him to become a fourth or fifth outfielder as soon as next season.
Also on the Baseball America list are Jordan Lyles (19 years old), Jiovanni Mier (19), and Tanner Bushue (18). Bushue came from a small high school in Illinois so he is going to be a little behind developmentally compared to other high schoolers in all likelihood. His numbers thus far are solid to good though. Mier had a strong 2009 season in rookie ball, but hasn't played all that well in 2010 in Lexington. The adventures of Jordan Lyles have been well chronicled, and he is our top pitching prospect. Already pitching for AA Corpus Christi and pitching well for that matter is a welcome sign for a depleted farm system. These five players may be at different stages in their careers, but all five have a good shot at ending up playing for the Astros at some point.